MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s president said here Wednesday that security forces’ use of tear gas against migrants trying to cross into the country illegally from Guatemala was an isolated incident.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador added that members of the National Guard, a new public security body created last year, had taken necessary action after coming under attack by individuals traveling as part of that migrant caravan.
“It was an isolated case that of course we’re not always going to apply. That’s not the hallmark of this government. We want peace. We want to resolve differences through dialogue, agreement,” Lopez Obrador said when asked about the tactics used Monday against migrants trying to cross the Suchiate River from Tecun Uman, Guatemala, to Ciudad Hidalgo, a town in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas.
In his regular morning press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Lopez Obrador commended the National Guard for acting with restraint despite being the target of aggression by rock-throwing migrants.
“They didn’t fall into the trap of responding with violence. That’s possibly what the leaders of these caravans and our adversaries, the (conservatives), were looking for,” the center-left president said.
“Fortunately things didn’t escalate,” Lopez Obrador said, adding that the migrants who crossed the river had been deceived into thinking they “would reach (Mexico’s) northern border with no problem.”
“When (the migrants) realized that there were options to (apply for) asylum or work in their places of origin or in Mexico” and that the caravan leaders had not carved out a clear route through the Aztec nation, they desisted from that effort “and are voluntarily going back,” he said.
Last weekend, thousands of migrants gathered at the Guatemala-Mexico border. Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) said it would allow the migrants to enter the country in groups of 20, although it later acknowledged that many of these people would be deported after a review of their migrant status.
On Monday, about 500 migrants crossed the Suchiate River after the Mexican government denied their formal request for admission. The National Guard deployed tear gas and captured more than 400 people, while 58 others disappeared into the jungle.
Mexico’s response to this latest caravan reflects the sharp change in policy by Lopez Obrador’s administration, which had previously offered humanitarian visas to members of migrant caravans and had sought to enlist the US in a development plan for Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
That plan focused on boosting job opportunities in countries that have some of the highest homicide rates in the world and where 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
But under pressure from US President Donald Trump’s administration, which had threatened to impose tariffs on all Mexican imports if that country did not halt the northward movement of Central Americans, Lopez Obrador’s government agreed with the US in June 2019 on a plan to curb migration.
Last month, Mexico announced a 70 percent reduction in the number of people arriving at its border with the US and said that the INM had deported 178,960 foreigners in 2019.
The US government on Wednesday praised Mexico for its efforts to halt this latest caravan at its southern border and said that those migrants who manage to reach US soil will be sent back to their home countries.
“I commend the Government of Mexico for upholding their commitment to increased security and law enforcement at their southern border,” the acting secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The efforts by the Mexican National Guard and other officials have thus far been effective at maintaining the integrity of their border, despite outbreaks of violence and lawlessness by people who are attempting to illegally enter Mexico on their way to the United States,” he added.